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January 18, 2011

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Car pooling considered to tackle congestion

HUNDREDS of thousands of city commuters who post online messages offering and seeking car shares may soon see the practice made legal, according to the city transport bureau.

Even though car sharing is currently against the law, some 730,000 locals have posted messages on, China's leading online discussion platform, in a bid to match up with other travelers.

Sun Jianping, director with the Shanghai Communications, Transport and Port Administration Bureau, told Shanghai Daily that officials have already launched a feasibility study on car pooling to help reduce traffic gridlock.

"We have heard the calls from locals about legalizing car pooling in Shanghai. It has been put on the agenda as a possible traffic-easing solution," Sun said.

However, he could not provide further details on the plan.

Car pooling has been resisted in Shanghai over fears it would deprive taxi drivers of income.

"It's difficult to tell if a van boarded by strangers is a vehicle used for an underground transport business or an occasional non-profit vehicle share," said an official with the city's taxi watchdog.

There have been constant court disputes in recent years between law enforcement and car owners who insisted they were mistaken for operating illegal taxi businesses while just providing a ride.

"Because of the difficulty in distinguishing car pooling from illegal taxi business, an effective solution that would both help raise road efficiency in rush hour and also reduce vehicle emissions is now grounded in a grey area," said Ye Yinzhong, a local engineering college professor.

Ye has urged city government to legalize car pooling locally. "The government should actively promote free car pooling," Ye said.

"Drivers offering free rides to friends and neighbors sharing the same commuting routes should be granted priority in rush-hour traffic as a way of encouragement."

He also suggested that local authorities modify car insurance regulations to ensure that drivers involved in car pools are covered in the event of an accident.

Support for car pooling in the city has come from an unexpected quarter.

A downtown taxi driver said: "I fully support plans to allow car pooling as there is definitely a need for this. It makes sense during rush hour and saves energy."


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